On November 2, against the weight of the entire world, the US, once again, voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the end of its six decade embargo of Cuba.
The resolution was called the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” 187 countries voted in favour of the resolution. Only the US and Israel – who is dependent on the US for military support and who is obliged to return cover for cover at the UN – voted against the resolution. Ukraine, whose government is dependent on the US, not only militarily, but for its economic survival, abstained.
This year’s vote marks the thirty-first consecutive international rebuke of America’s Cuba policy. It also marks the most united the world has been in its condemnation of the US. Last year, the resolution attracted 185 yes votes. Like this year, only Israel sided with the US. But last year Brazil joined Ukraine in abstaining. The replacing of Jair Bolsonaro with Lula da Silva as president of Brazil brought Brazil back over to Cuba’s side, leaving the US the most isolated it’s been in the long history of the resolution.
Ambassador Paul Folmsbee, the senior US advisor for Western hemisphere affairs, explained to the General Assembly that the US voted to maintain the embargo on Cuba because “The United States stands resolutely with the Cuban people.” He said that “Sanctions are one set of tools in our broader effort” to help Cuba: “We therefore oppose this resolution.”
One might excuse the Cuban people for not thanking him. Instead, Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla called it “an act of economic warfare, in times of peace.” He said that it violates the human rights of all Cubans and reminded the world that “Cuba was not threat at all <sic> to the US and that to subject a small nation for decades to economic warfare, was unacceptable.” He called America’s embargo an “illegal, cruel and inhumane policy.”
And it is illegal. The General Assembly called on the US to end the embargo and return to its “obligations under the UN Charter and international law.” The Assembly also reiterated its concern that the US continues to defy UN resolutions dating back to 1992.
Chile’s Permanent Representative to the UN said that “Chile does not agree with the imposition of unilateral sanctions of any kind, the only legitimate sanctions are those adopted by the Security Council in the exercise of its authority for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Peru also reminded the world that the embargo violates the principles of the UN Charter and international human rights law and said that that is view shared by “practically the entire international community.”
Though usually attributed to Kennedy, the genesis of the US embargo on Cuba goes back to the Eisenhower administration. On January 25, 1960, President Eisenhower suggested that the US navy “quarantine” Cuba. “If they are hungry,” the President fumed, “they will throw Castro out.” His ambassador to Cuba, Philip W. Bonsal, chided him with a moral reminder: “We should not punish the whole Cuban people for the acts of one abnormal man.”
Less than a year later, that moral restraint no longer ruled. In October, the US banned exports to Cuba except food and medicine, planting the seed of the embargo that grips Cuba to this day. In February 1962, Kennedy finished the job and locked the people of Cuba under a full economic embargo. With growing cruelty, in January 1964, Johnson moved to include food and medicine in the embargo. By 2018, that embargo had cost Cuba $130 billion, according to the UN. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said at a recent press conference that from March 2022 to February 2023, the blockade caused more than $4.8 billion in losses to Cuba. “If we calculate the damage caused by the blockade in these 60 years, based on the value of gold,” he added, “it amounts to 1.337 trillion dollars.”
Campaigning to be president in March 2020, Biden promised that he would “promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” He has not kept that promise.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. To support his work or for media or virtual presentation requests, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.